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New weapons available for police officers

John Colson

Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis has added a small arsenal of “less lethal” weaponry to his department’s efforts to enforce the law in humane ways.

The new weapons include “tasers,” small, pistol-like devices that deliver an incapacitating shock to the recipient; “bean bag” rounds for the shotguns used by deputies; and a new “net gun” that fires ropes to entangle a suspect and throw him or her to the ground.

“These will be available in situations [where], from training and experience, we [see a need] to deploy a tool that’s less lethal than firearms and more effective than verbal persuasion,” Braudis said.

The county commissioners last week approved the sheriff’s budget of $2.36 million, of which roughly 80 percent is devoted to salaries and other personnel costs. The budget includes just over $50,000 to pay for an additional deputy.

In the equipment section of the budget documents submitted to the county, the sheriff’s office asked for $8,700 to purchase the “less lethal” weapons to supplement the deputies’ traditional complement of martial arts, nightsticks, handguns, rifles and chemical sprays.

The commissioners agreed to spend $6,000 on the weapons, which have already been used by the sheriff’s office on an experimental basis.

The “less-lethal” weapons were recommended by Deputy John Sobieralsky, who got the idea after reading about a hammer-wielding suspect who was shot and killed by police.

“People think `less lethal’ means you won’t get hurt, and that’s not necessarily the case,” Sobieralsky pointed out.

The goal, he said, is to incapacitate a potentially dangerous suspect without inflicting “serious injury” to either the suspect or the officer.

Such “tools,” as they were termed by both Braudis and Sobieralsky, are not intended to be carried by deputies all the time. Sobieralsky said they will likely be signed out by deputies working the night shift, when confrontations with suspects are statistically more likely to occur.

The “less lethal” weapons, he added, are to be left in the patrol car most of the time, where they can be pulled out whenever such a situation threatens to erupt.

The weapons

The M26 Taser, Sobieralsky said, looks like a handgun and fires “darts” that are attached by wires to the weapon and are meant to either attach to the clothing or the skin of the suspect, with an effective range of up to 21 feet.

The electrical current discharges for five seconds automatically upon contact and can be discharged again by pulling the trigger. The charge results in a loss of muscle control and the will to fight, Sobieralsky said.

Sobieralsky said he experienced the taser first-hand during a training exercise, when he was “shot” by a trainer.

“It was very unpleasant,” he recalled. “However, it was very effective … [it] put me on the ground in less than a second.”

He said the sheriff’s office has had only one occasion to use the taser, during an arrest in the Redstone area of a “potentially violent, armed person.” He said the person surrendered as soon as a deputy pulled out the taser and prepared to fire.

A taser was not available, he said, but might have been useful several months ago during a brawl in Aspen in which one suspect was so violent it took several officers to subdue him.

The net gun is a small tube that looks like a flashlight. It fires a tightly bundled net that expands as it travels toward the suspect, with an effective range of about 30 feet. The net can trip up a fleeing suspect or one who is making belligerent advances.

The bean-bag rounds, similar to those that have been used to scare off bears and other wildlife, are fired from shotguns. They are meant for situations when deadly force is not needed, but a suspect is some distance away and must be subdued.

The department has not yet determined how many of the new weapons to buy with the reduced amount of money approved by the commissioners. Braudis said the use of the new armaments will be evaluated at the end of 2001 to see if more are needed.


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